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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Variations and Fugue on a theme of J. S. Bach, Op. 81 (1904) [30’14]. Variations and Fugue on a theme of G. P. Telemann, Op. 134 (1914) [39’55].
Mark Latimer (piano).
Rec. All Saints’ Church, Petersham on April 4th and 5th, 1994. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61718-2 [70’19]

I am unsure whether these recordings have languished in the can for a decade. If so, it is criminal, for this is remarkable pianism in equally remarkable music. Why Reger seems forbidding is unclear to me. There is intellectual rigour there, to be sure (the use of Variation and Fugue here in itself attests to that), yet there is also seemingly infinite variety.

One thing is clear though. Reger’s music needs an interpreter possessed of the variety of touch, the ability to delineate thicket-like textures and above all the ability to concentrate relentlessly. Mark Latimer is one such.

The Bach Variations form very much the meat of this disc. The theme comes from ‘Seine Allmacht zu ergründen’, a duet from the Cantata No. 128, Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein. A sequence of fourteen variations precedes a Fugue of some nine minutes’ duration. There is some playfulness present in this work (Variation V, a mere 1’15), but it is the progression from the calm of the theme to the imposing, confident Fugue that Latimer highlights, and to fine effect. Of the variations, possibly the finest are Nos VII (a still Adagio) and VIII (an imposing Vivace that uses the whole keyboard). Latimer’s depth of sound is well-captured by Warner here, as elsewhere – step forward Tryggvi Tryggvason and Andrew Halifax. The granitic Variation XIV prepares the ground for the Sostenuto fugue, a fugue that begins quietly, full of concentration. Reger’s firm compositional hand is here everywhere in evidence, the pacing towards the grand ending equally finely graded by Latimer.

The Telemann Variations of a decade later, despite being even longer, are actually a little easier on the ear. This comes from the theme, a jolly minuet from the 1830s, included in a Suite in Tafelmusik. Latimer, after the first statement of the theme, includes only the first-half repeats for each variation so as to enable both works to squeeze onto a single CD. There is much more of a feeling of playfulness here, and even jubilation (the trill-laden Variation XIV), while the music-box evocation of Variation XVII is wonderfully sweet. Amusingly the Fugue threatens to break into ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ at one point. Hardly intentional, surely, but amusing nonetheless. Latimer trips along nicely towards this concluding fugue’s climax.

Very strongly recommended. Latimer’s belief in this music is clear, his technique fully up to the challenges. Perhaps if this lights your candle, the next step might be the Clarinet Sonatas on Haenssler ?

Colin Clarke

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